Everything is energy

In science, everything is energy, or "alles ist energie" (German), or "all is energy", is a motto or ideology, defended scientifically in the late 19th century by the energetics school, and seen growingly in the new age schools thereafter, that all "things" in the universe can be reduced down to or explained as energy, and or variations of energy.

The “everything is energy” motto, historically, seems to be a simplified truncation of the first law of thermodynamics (Clausius, 1865), which itself is synthesis of: the conservation of energy (Joule, 1843), the mechanical equivalent of heat (1635, Baliani), and the conservation of force (Mohr, 1837).

In 1887, German physicist Georg Helm published his influential The Doctrine of Energy, which was read by many, such as Wilhelm Ostwald (below).

Ostwald | All is energy
In 1887, Wilhelm Ostwald, in a lecture at Leipzig, outlined his new “energism” (see: energetics) view, as American historian Niles Holt refers to it, according to which all natural processes are essentially transformations of energy, and most-contentiously that: [1]

Matter is only a mirage, which the mind creates to comprehend the workings of energy.”

In 1890, Ostwald entered into the universal theory of everything arena of the “all is energy” philosophical motto, following a spring physics conference in Berlin, wherein Ostwald attempted to convince a group of physicists to adhere to the following new outlook: [2]

“From now on the whole of physics has to be represented as a theory of energies.”

This incident has been documented by American energetics historian Robert Deltete in a series of articles. The group found the idea “so absurd that they refused to take it seriously at all” and offered only “ridicule and abuse”. The next morning, Ostwald awoke early and went for a walk in the Tiergarten, and had a “personal Pentecost”, as he described it, seeing clearly the view that “all is energy”. Ostwald’s revelatory moment of insight is detailed in his Autobiography, and is quoted in Eduard Farber’s Great Chemists. [3]

Of note, in order for Ostwald to accept this "all is energy view", he had to reject atomic theory; he only later recanted on this disbelief in 1909.

In 1910, Ostwald, together with Ernst Haeckel, began promoting and giving their Monistic Sunday Sermons, wherein they preached their energy-based monism ideology. This, in large part, was the apex of the "all is energy" or "everything is energy" ideology.

Einstein | Mass-energy equivalence
In 1905, Albert Einstein, in his "Does the Inertia of a Body Depend upon its Energy-Content?", proved or showed that matter and energy are incontrovertible, i.e that a mass-energy equivalence exists, the two matter m and energy E related by the following formula:

E = mc^2 \,\!

where c is the speed of light. This formula: E = mc², supposedly, is evidenced in the Einstein-Szilard letter (1939) (Ѻ), the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings (1949), and other nuclear fission reactions (Ѻ) to follow.

Dirac | Fermions + Bosons
In 1945, Paul Dirac, in his “Developments in Atomic Theory” lecture, referring to quantum particles that obey the laws that he and Enrico Fermi had set out in 1926, declared, in a roundabout way, that everything reduces to fermions (matter particles) and bosons (force particles).

Everything | Theories
Into the late 20th century, after Ostwald, specifically, and Dirac, in particular, energy-based theories of everything, were superseded, or supplanted, so to say, by thermodynamics-based theories of everything, as evidenced by the so-called Einstein postulate; albeit more difficult to state explicitly.

Everything is energy (new age)
A new age stylized "everything is energy" image, attributed to Darryl Anka.
New age
In the 20th century and going into the early 21st century, the "everything is energy" motto seems to have been hijacked by the new age movement, as evidenced by the smattering of books (Ѻ) proliferating and promulgating on this platform, e.g. law of attraction ideologies, "choose your own energy", power of prayer, etc., among other anthropomorphic and or religio-mythology ingrained ideologies.

The following are related quotes:

“The time will be when this will be accomplished, and the time has come when one may utter such words before an enlightened audience without being considered visionary. We are whirling through the endless space with an inconceivable speed; all around us everything is spinning, everything is moving, everything is energy. There must be some way of availing ourselves of this energy more directly. Then, with the light obtained from the medium, with the power derived from it, with every form of energy obtained without effort, from the store forever inexhaustible, humanity will advance with giant strides. The mere contemplation of these magnificent possibilities expands our minds, strengthens our hopes and fills our hearts with supreme delight.”
— Nikola Tesla (1891), “Talk given to the American Institute of Electrical Engineers” at Columbia University; in The New Nation (pg. 440), Aug 8

“Today it is believed to bring something new when we say: everything is energy. As far as they were formerly.”
— Paul Mobius (1898), “Zum Andenken an J. Ch. A. Heinroth” (Ѻ), commentary on the views of force views of psychosomatic theorist Johann Heinroth (1773-1843) and soul, spirit, body views of Friedrich Jacobi (1743-1819)


1. Holt, Niles R. (1977). “Wilhelm Ostwald’s ‘The Bridge’” (abs), The British Journal for the History of Science, 10(2):146-50.
2. (a) Deltete, Robert J. (2007). “Wilhelm Ostwald’s Energetics 1: Origins and Motivations” (abs), Foundations of Chemistry, 9(1):3-56.
(b) Deltete, Robert J. (2007). “Wilhelm Ostwald’s Energetics 2: Energetic Theory and Application, Part I” (abs), Foundations of Chemistry, 9(3):256-316
(c) Deltete, Robert J. (2008). “Wilhelm Ostwald’s Energetics 3: Energetic Theory and Application, Part II” (abs), Foundations of Chemistry, 10(#):187-221.
(d) Zencey, Eric. (2013). “Energy as a Master Resource” (pdf), in: State of the World 2013: Is Sustainability Still Possible? (§7:##-; image, figure 1-2). Island Press, 2013.
3. Farber, Eduard. (1961). Great Chemists (§:Wilhelm Ostwald) (pgs. 1019-##; esp. 1025; catalyst, pg. 1026; Monisten Bund, pg. 1028). Interscience Publishers.

External links
Everything is energy (section) – RationalWiki.

TDics icon ns

More pages